Nathanael O’Reilly: Seven Poems

Where the West Begins

a black Dodge Charger runs the stop sign
at the corner of Cockrell & the boulevard
slams into the driver’s side of a red
PT Cruiser with a cannonball thud
summoning residents running from front
yards. the vehicles sit idle in the street
for a moment of stillness before running
residents reach car doors. a young man
wearing a backwards black baseball cap
& an oversized Cowboys jersey
emerges from the Charger, stands dazed
in the street surveying the damage
while a bearded thirtysomething man
in cargo shorts with a black ponytail
& two golden retrievers on leashes
squats beside the open driver’s door
of the Cruiser, gently asks the boomer
driver, Are you okay, ma’am? Is there
anything you need? stands up tall, steps
back when she looks at the other driver
yells What I need is a fuckin’ gun!

**

Dying Fall

two weeks into the pandemic
George ties a white ribbon around
the live oak in front of his house
declares his support for his daughter
& her colleagues treating covid
patients in the hospitals. eight
long months into the pandemic
covid kills George’s sister one
day after Thanksgiving, ends her
seventy-two-year life as temps
drop & frigid winds blow. dying
leaves from the white-ribboned live oak
cover George’s lawn with a pall

**

Riding West

a twentysomething woman cruises
the boulevard on her skateboard

brown hair braided, eyes hidden
behind sunglasses, ears plugged

with earbuds, bare brown arms
loose & relaxed, knees slightly

bent, blue jeans ripped, red
Converse facing south as she rides

west, black backpack hanging
from bare shoulders, white

tank top rippling in the breeze
mouth formed into a half-smile

hips & board swaying & weaving
as youth seizes the autumn day

**

Silent Still

the boulevard is quiet today. cars
are stationary. silence descends. dead

leaves bathe in stillness, recline in gutters.
doors remain closed. blinds stay drawn. bare boughs

& trunks rest against grey skies, appear black
& sullen. powerlines refuse to sway

& dance. security lights disperse soft
light. the red bow on the black mailbox fails

to flutter. squirrels, birds & cats seek
silent shelter from the glacial morning

like exiles trapped in the wrong hemisphere

**

Notes & Feedback

Distorted notes & feedback roar from my daughter’s room;
soundwaves travel through the wall, vibrate framed art.
The Seven Nation Army riff explodes the gloom.

She sits cross-legged before her amp, wears her costume:
black Docs, black jeans, t-shirt with the words of Descartes.
Distorted notes & feedback roar from my daughter’s room.

She increases the volume, makes Meg White’s drums boom.
Plays the notes over and over, repeatedly hits restart.
The Seven Nation Army riff explodes the gloom.

She amplifies bass & treble, works to exhume
the groove, searches for sublime changes to impart.
Distorted notes & feedback roar from my daughter’s room.

Her Strat charges the air with audio perfume.
The song crescendos, she returns to the start.
The Seven Nation Army riff explodes the gloom.

I sit & listen, drum on my desk, hear her bloom,
savor the sounds, dread the day she will depart.
Distorted notes & feedback roar from my daughter’s room;
the Seven Nation Army riff explodes the gloom.

**

Melbourne

Melbourne,
my first
home after leaving
home, you made me
an adult, showed me cobblestone
lanes, suburbs, architecture, pubs, gardens, trams,
gave me friendships, education, inspiration, concerts, libraries,
all-night parties, walks home through the rain, espresso,
record shops, bookshops, op-shops, nightclubs, autumn leaves, romance,
………………………………………………………………………………..conversations
before dawn beside the bay, dreams of travel and return.

**

Fortitude

We rode our bikes to school along Parkside
Drive, Balaclava Road and Graham Street,
dodging swooping magpies, and out of town
to Mooroopna, Lemnos and Congupna
across rivers through bushland and orchards
of ripe apricots, peaches and pears.

We spent blistering summers at the pool
competing to hold our breath, bellyflop
from the diving board, backflip off the blocks,
swim the length underwater on one breath,
tried to impress bored brown glistening girls.

Our mob skated down Wyndham Street, wheels
clicking on the cracks between concrete slabs,
at the War Memorial, at North Tech,
through Maude Street mall, inside the empty
multi-storey car park, along High Street
to the railway station, down the Goulburn
Valley Highway to Kialla, up Railway
Parade past SPC, out New Dookie
Road to the abandoned abattoir.

We drank tinnies from eskies at the Deb
Ball in the Town Hall while mates escorted
local beauties, dove off the wooden stage
into each other’s arms while the cover-
band guitarist played the Wild Thing solo
with his teeth. Drank slabs of VB beside
the Broken River, Southern Comfort
in backyards, Carlton Draught at Detours,
the Vic and the Goulburn Valley Hotel.

I played basketball for the Demons,
reffed the under-12s for five bucks a game
while parents barracked and swore, delivered
newspapers, picked fruit during the summer
holidays, sold skateboards and clothes, fitted
gorgeous affluent classmates with rental
skis, boots, overalls, parkas and goggles.

I swam in irrigation channels, held
my breath beneath the railway bridge as freight
trains thundered above, played golf with mates,
tennis with my dad, got in fights outside
pubs, down at the shops, got bashed at housing
commission backyard end-of-school-year parties.

I was shunned at lunch, given the old hip
and shoulder while walking between classes,
shirtfronted during recess cricket,
survived bullies scrawling slurs on blackboards,
laughing abuse across basketball courts,
slamming my head against steel lockers,
angry at my earring, long hair, refusal
to conform to country town norms.

I climbed the observation tower, plunged
from a fraying rope swing into the muddy
Goulburn, unable to see the snags below.

 ———————————-

Publication credit: Where the West Begins, Dying Fall, Riding West and Silent Still previously appeared in Boulevard (Beir Bua Press, 2021).

Nathanael O’Reilly is an Irish-Australian poet residing in Texas. His books include Boulevard (Beir Bua Press, 2021); (Un)belonging (Recent Work Press, 2020); BLUE (above/ground press, 2020); Preparations for Departure (UWAP, 2017); Distance (Ginninderra Press, 2015); Suburban Exile (Picaro Press, 2011); and Symptoms of Homesickness (Picaro Press, 2010). His poetry, published in fourteen countries, appears in journals and anthologies including Anthropocene, Cordite Poetry Review, The Elevation Review, Ink, Sweat & Tears, New World Writing, Mascara Literary Review, Ponder Review, Westerly and Wisconsin Review. He is the poetry editor for Antipodes: A Global Journal of Australian/New Zealand Literature.

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